Welcome to Killarney, where you will discover the beauty and famed hospitality that has captivated visitors for centuries. In this audio guide, you will hear the story of the origins of the town, and how the stunning landscape of Killarney’s hinterland has helped to shape the course of its history.
Killarney is surrounded by truly breathtaking scenery. Every year visitors explore the world famous Killarney National Park to enjoy the mountains and lakes and hidden stories that abound around every corner. The three lakes of Killarney, Lough Leane, Muckross Lake, and the Upper Lake, have played a key role in the development of the story of the town. Some of the earliest human activity in the area was discovered at Ross Island on Lough Leane, where nearly four thousand years ago, Bronze Age people mined copper and created some of Ireland’s very first metal weapons and tools. Copper exported from the Ross Island mines has been identified in may Bronze Age artefacts found throughout the British Isles. There is a well signed Mining Trail on Ross Island and more evidence of the prehistoric past can be found throughout the Killarney Valley.
Ross Island is more famous today for Ross Castle, a handsome late-medieval towerhouse and was amongst the last to surrender to Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads during the Irish Confederate Wars. Innisfallen Island, Lough Leane, is thought to have been the origin of the first historically-attested settlement at Killarney, when St Finian the Leper established a monastery on the island in the seventh century. This monastery became a noted place of learning and worship for almost a thousand years giving Lough Leane the name; The Lake of Learning. Working for over three hundred years, the monks produced the beautifully inscribed Annals of Innisfallen. This is one of Ireland’s most important historical documents, as it chronicles the medieval history of Ireland from 433 to 1450. There is an ongoing campaign to have it returned to Killarney from its present home in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
The development of the town of Killarney was connected to the fortunes of the Browne Family, the Earls of Kenmare, who had been granted the land here in the sixteenth century. The Down Survey, that detailed and mapped all the major towns and settlements of Ireland in the mid-seventeenth century, shows no sign of a settlement here at Killarney. However, a century later, in the middle of the eighteenth century, a survey showed that the town consisted of the Earl of Kenmare’s mansion, three or four houses, around 100 thatched cabins, and the town had an estimated population of 500. The author of this survey stated that: “A new street with a large commodious inn was designed to be built here, for the curiosities of the neighbouring lake, have of late drawn great numbers of curious travelers to visit us.”
During the mid 18th century, the Fourth Earl of Kenmare had realised Killarney’s potential for tourism. He issued free leases to encourage the development of inns and guesthouses and laid the foundations for Killarney’s famed hospitality for tourists. Through the far-sighted Earl, Killarney has become known as the birthplace of Irish tourism.
Queen Victoria’s visit to Killarney with her family in 1861, cemented the town’s reputation as a Grand Tour destination. The visit had been arranged by Lord Kenmare’s son, Viscount Castlerosse, who served as the Vice Chamberlain to the Royal Family. An enormous retinue travelled with the Queen and her family, increasing the need for high-class accommodation. The visit also resulted in the development of more infrastructure to ease the journey for the Royal Family. This included the establishment of a new road network linking Killarney to Limerick, Cork and Kenmare. This new network, along with the earlier arrival of the railways in 1853, ensured that Killarney became accessible to the multitude of visitors who wanted to flock to one of the most famous destinations in Ireland.
Killarney’s reputation for hospitality has not diminished in the intervening years. This perfect blend of a warm welcome with breathtaking scenery has ensured it has continued to be popular with visitors. Before you explore the stunning scenery, join us on this journey back in time to discover the remarkable story of the town. We hope our guide helps you to explore this wonderful place and to discover its charming story for yourself.